Spurs eliminate Rockets, D2As one might expect, Jazz guard John Stockton looked a little sheepish standing out there at mid-court, being bear-hugged by owner Larry H. Miller. Then again, it was a bear-hug kind of night for the Jazz.
The occasion was Stockton's history-making 1,135th assist of the season, breaking his own NBA record set a year ago. It was also the occasion of the Jazz's official pre-playoff notice. Stockton and Karl Malone combined for 50 points as the Jazz mauled Seattle, 130-103, at the Salt Palace Thursday night.Upon smashing his own record, the game was halted and Stockton ushered to the center circle and handed the game ball. Photographers crowded up, and Stockton, wearing an awkward grin, stood while the public address announcer informed the crowd that he had broken the existing record - the third time he has set the NBA standard. The crowd rose for a standing ovation.
"I'm just glad it's over with and we won't have to take it into the next game, and we can just go ahead and play," said Stockton later.
Had it not been for that brief, official time out, Seattle would have never had the chance to see Stockton in one spot. The All-Star guard had a typically productive night that included 11 assists (now 1,136 for the season), 22 points, two rebounds and a block. His main accomplice, Malone, checked in with 28 points and 10 rebounds, playing an uncharacteristic 38 minutes due to the huge winning margin."After the first quarter there was no game, except for Stockton and Malone," said Seattle coach K.C. Jones.
Actually, there was a lot more, as far as the Jazz were concerned. The game was the Jazz's first bona-fide blowout since they wiped out Orlando, 106-88, on March 4. It was also their third-largest winning margin of the season. Jeff Malone weighed in with 18 points. Thurl Bailey (14 points) led a bench effort that totaled 49 points. Mark Eaton played only 33 minutes yet took in 13 rebounds, including six in the first period.
After struggling for weeks against bad teams, the Jazz finally got untracked and won one going away - against a good team headed for the playoffs. "I think it was important to have a game like that because we haven't exactly been blowing people out," said the Mailman. "I think we needed that. We needed the rest, too."
Being able to rest is something the Jazz starters have rarely had a chance to do. But Delaney Rudd gave Stockton 19 minutes' rest, scoring eight points in the process. Mike Brown, Darrell Griffith and Tony Brown each played 11 or more minutes.
"I don't know when we've had a game where we've been so alive," said coach Jerry Sloan.
For all their optimism, the Jazz's night was incomplete. The win only kept them on even ground, as San Antonio remained a game ahead of the Jazz with a win at Houston. With Utah awaiting games with the Lakers and Golden State, and San Antonio having only Dallas and Denver remaining, it appears the Jazz will finish second in the division and wind up against Phoenix in the playoffs.
"You've got to give San Antonio a heck of a lot of credit. Every game they had to win, they did," said Malone. "If we start out (the playoffs) on the road, then we're on the road. That's basically the only way to think of it."
Except for the pause for Stockton's record, there was only one other major holdup during the game. With the Sonics trailing 44-42 and 2:25 left in the half, Malone drew a foul on Seattle's Shawn Kemp. Kemp protested mightily and was hit with a technical. He then drew a second technical and was ejected.
"I don't have any comment on the throwout. I'll talk to you about the game, but other than that, I don't have any words to say," said Kemp.
However, coach Jones did, accusing the Mailman of holding Kemp.
"Malone has a very nice trick on how to hold you, and they (the officials) are going to call an overt action. Malone does it all the time and whoever he's holding gets all upset about it and they get called on it," said Jones.
The fouls proved costly. Jeff Malone hit both technicals and the Mailman added two free throws on the personal foul. Then Jeff Malone nailed a fadeway for a 50-42 lead.
Shortly into the second half, the game was over. The Jazz suddenly went wild, rolling off 14 straight points, led by Stockton, who had six points, a steal and an assist during that time. The Jazz ended up outscoring Seattle 24-4 and went on to outpoint the Sonics 42-18 for the period.
The lead got as high as 34 points in the fourth period.
Sloan said his team was as lively as it has been in weeks, and credited strong defense with the reason for the fine performance. The Jazz ended the game shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor and out-rebounding the Sonics by nine.
Stockton's record-setting assist came only after a long wait. He didn't get his ninth (tying) assist until 6:58 remained in the third quarter. By that time, the Jazz had a 78-51 lead. Stockton left with 5:45 to go and didn't return until 10:16 remained in the game.
"I didn't know I needed one more assist," said Stockton. "That hasn't been the style of our team or me to know those things."
Neither did reserve forward Tony Brown, who may someday be a trivia answer on the other end of Stockton's record-breaking assist. Darrell Griffith had knocked away the ball to Stockton, who then started the break, passing to Brown for the layup.
"I had no idea it would be a historic assist," said Brown.
With two games left for both the Jazz and San Antonio, the chances of Utah making off with the Midwest title - and a No. 2 seeding in the playoffs - are fairly dim. But nobody was going to let that change their mood. "It's not good news (that San Antonio won), but it's not the end of the world, either," said Stockton. Or is it the end of the season?